Category Archives: Powerful personal stories of people who dared to change

Book Review: Taking the Leap by Pema Chodron

Taking the LeapIn a word: her best.  I loved the ease and practicality of this book.  I feel that the book gives just the right amount of theory with an equal dose of “how to”.  Some take aways from the book are:

1.  She had a great analogy of how humans are like little kids with a case of poison ivy.  When we feel discomfort, like the itch of a rash, we instantly need to escape from it.  To scratch if you will.  We spend a lot of time trying to escape our reality by trying to scratch our way to feeling better.  And you all know what happens when you scratch the poison ivy rash.

She then takes this analogy further into the Buddhist idea of Shenpa (or getting hooked).  She explains it as feeling discomfort and then spiraling into patters that we desperately try to escape.  It is a chain reaction where something, your thing, gets you and then the kicking in of the pattern you have with dealing with (or not dealing with it in this case).  Somebody says something, an addiction tempts you, a relationship dynamic kicks in…..you know what I’m getting at. They are those moments in life that you really feel that you have no control and watch yourself almost as a third person keep demonstrating the same behavior over and over again

2.  The importance of pausing between stimulus and your reaction.

3.  Be honest with yourself via:

    1. Listening to your natural intelligence,
    2. Show a natural warmth to yourself and others, and
    3. Remain open to people, experience and yourself.

4.  If you can drop your story line of judgement or predictions, this lessens the Shempa…it reduces the ease of which you get hooked or set off and allows you to remain in the present moment.

5.  Meditation is not a striving but a way to relax.  You have what you need already, and meditation is there to help you see that rather than convert you into something better or new.

6.  Make friends with yourself and be OK with things as they are.  If you can make friends with yourself, have compassion for yourself, then you can have compassion for others.  This is demonstrated in 3 steps:

    1. Maitri–loving kindness towards all living beings as well as trusting oneself.
    2. Act from the heart towards others
    3. Put others before you and expect nothing in return.

7.  Tonglen is a practice of taking in and sending out.  The idea of taking in the world around you and giving part of yourself back. It removes the “all about me syndrome”

Those main points are ones that really stuck with me.  To sum up, this direct quote from the hard cover book (p.86) really spoke directly to me after my experiences in Mysore, India when studying at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Center (KPJAYI).  I’ve been there two times in the past year and each time I’ve gone, I can’t believe the level of ego, unfriendliness and self centeredness by the majority of the Ashtanga Yoga students.  All of those hours on the mat and listening to Sharath teach yet they go right back to “I’m the center of the universe” mode after they roll up their mat.  Pema’ writes:

“I’ve known many people who have spent years exercising daily, getting massages, doing yoga, faithfully following one food or vitamin regimen after another, pursuing spiritual teachers and different styles of meditation, all in the name of taking care of themselves.  Then something bad happens to them and all those years don’t seem to have added up to the inner strength and kindness for themselves that they need to relate with what’s happening.  And they don’t add up to being able to help other people or the environment.  When taking care of ourselves is all about me, it never gets at the unshakable tenderness and confidence that we’ll need  when everything falls apart.  When we start to develop maitri for ourselves, unconditional acceptance of ourselves, then we’re really taking care of ourselves in a way that pays off.  We feel more at home with our own bodies and minds and more at home in the world.  As our kindness for ourselves grows, so does our kindness for other people”

That was the big take home.  I’ll be posting up more on Mysore and my experiences there this year but her writing in the above paragraph was my mindset as I walked around the dusty streets of India very perplexed at the overall atmosphere of a so called yoga shala.

You can get her book here on Amazon and I’d be interested to know your thoughts or point of view or how it helped you.

Discovering your passion (and having the courage to follow it)

Big JonJon Laetsch started the blog Jon on Demand: A review of your favorite Blockbusters as a high school class project but ended up growing a successful and very professional website.  He is only 17 years old but writes with clarity, ease and a maturity that is much beyond his actual years.  In a recent interview, he talks about his perspective on movies, life and following your passion. Enjoy.

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Ignite Change (IC)–Your movie blog is very professional and if I didn’t know you, I would say it was from an adult.  What drives you to produce such great quality work and what is your reason behind the blog?

It all started one year ago in my high school Journalism class. Our teacher assigned us all the task of creating a blog of our choice. I reviewed different things like restaurants and music albums until I found my niche in reviewing movies.

From that moment on I reviewed all kinds of movies until I focused on recent blockbusters like “Lincoln”, “Skyfall” and “Django” just to name a few. I never thought that a class project would turn into a hobby.

While working on my blog I am combining two things that I love to do: watch movies and writing. I could not think of a better hobby!

(IC)–How has your taste in movies created your character?  For example, you have a wide range of movies that you like and review.  How do you think this has developed your personality and the type of person you are?

As long as I can remember I have always loved stories. As a young boy I loved listening to them through word of mouth and as I grew older I discovered reading for myself. Through reading my imagination thrived and when I found out that stories could be told visually on the big screen I was fascinated.

I would not say that my taste in movies has shaped my personality but rather the other way around. I feel that my personality has shaped my taste in movies. I am an “open-for-everything” kind of guy and I feel the same way with movies. My taste is very widespread: I have seen action movies like “Die Hard” but also romances like “Love Actually” and inspirational movies like “Salmon Fishing in Yemen.”

It is the diversity of movies that inspires my imagination and lets me thrive in my writing.

(IC)–What bugs you most about the average person’s taste in movies?

I believe that the average person focuses too much on one particular type of genre rather than on the whole spectrum. I think that to fully appreciate movies you have to move outside your comfort zone and try new things. It is like in real life. You win some you lose some but at the end you can always say “I tried” and who knows maybe you will appreciate movies that you thought you would never ever dream about seeing.

Be brave.

(IC)–If you could design a film studies course in either a high school or college, what 10 movies would you include as your curriculum and why?

Although I prefer diversity in movies I would prefer for my film study course to analyze a specific genre. This would enable my students to get a better understanding of the structure and type of movie would help them focus on similar techniques used. When first studying movies, using ones that are all from random genres would not represent a particular path in the course and could lead to confusion among my students.

I would then find a couple of movies that fit well into the genre. For example If I were choose the topic “ Suspense thriller” my top picks of movies to show would be “ The Bourne: Identity”, “Sky fall”, and “Argo” because they all fit perfectly into that topic.

(IC)–What plans do you have for either your blog or career in relation to writing or movies or both?

I have always loved writing ever since my fourth grade English class in the American Cooperative School of Tunis and it was during that time that my relatives and teachers mentioned that I have a very unique and talented writing style. Being young and shy I felt like that was what they were supposed to tell me not realizing that I did have potential.

Since I have been writing my movie blog and my personal blog about recent events from my perspective, I have learned to become more proud of my work and it has really opened my eyes to a new opportunity in life. I feel like writing is something that I can see myself doing in the future and people’s feedback has helped me grow as a writer. Becoming a journalist or an author is something that I am striving for and hopefully my blog will be a good step in that direction. Until then I am going to enjoy my life as a high school student and hope for the best.

(IC)–If you had a friend that was passionate about a subject like you are about movies, and he/she was shy about sharing their knowledge like you do with a blog, what advice would you have for them?  What has this blog helped you with in life, school and understanding yourself?

Don’t be afraid to do something new or try something different if it involves following your passion. People will wonder and many will be surprised that your taking your own path in life because they might follow a path that society has laid out for them rather than following their instincts and listening to their heart. Never forget that the most satisfactory feeling is receiving positive feedback about something that you love doing.

I happen to love movies and I feel that my movie blog is a way of giving thanks to the industry. If five people that read my article about “Skyfall” were persuaded went to the movie because of it that makes all the effort worth it.  Whether it in life or school people see you under a completely different light if they find out that you are doing something that you love and that you are following that passion. Whatever it might be that you are interested in, as crazy as it may be, do it.

And just like Thoreau said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined.”

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Following your passion takes courage, optimism and discipline.  My new book on Amazon (Creating Your Personal Change: How to do it everyday and thrive) helps you not only start in the right direction but keep it up indefinitely.  Click here to check it out.

Designing your future

Roberto Salazar recently left a successful career teaching technology overseas in international schools.  After studying in Spain and returning to his native Ecuador, he has started his own company, Kikenyo, as a 3D graphic artist.  I had the chance to talk with him about what it took to make such a change, what were some of his challenges as well as moments that have made him proud.  Enjoy

roberto photoIgnite Change (IC)–Your new life direction has a lot of changes: countries, careers, working to studying, self employed, etc. How did it all start? What was it that pushed you in this new direction?

I think the number one reason had to be boredom. Once you start waking up in the morning and your realize your day will be very similar to the previous one then you start questioning yourself, “Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life”

When I changed directions I was 33 years old, I enjoyed my teaching job, it wasn’t bad, kids were great, environment was professional but I guess I was simply bored of teaching computers to middle-schoolers. Same questions, similar situations, similar subjects, similar problems. Even though I was able to come up with creative projects and lessons they had to be aimed at teaching 14 years-olds so that limited the “crazy” things I had in my mind.

I changed careers because I was bored of what I was doing and I’ve always wanted to know more about computer graphics so i applied to a school in Valencia, Spain, got accepted and went to study computer graphics related to the 3D world.

IC–What initial fears did you have and how did you still manage to take action in the face of your apprehensions/fears?

That I was not smart enough or creative enough to become a 3D artist, and to tell you the truth I still am (even though I am doing great in my new business). I think creativity is a hard field to delve into, many people are very quick to criticize your work and in Spain I experienced this firsthand with the worst professor I’ve had in my life.

The class was labeled “creativity” and we had to come up with 3 different “creative projects”. Initially I was excited to work on it, and it was hard, but the professors destructive criticism towards my work (and others as well) was crushing. I was scared, disappointed, and asked myself “what have I gotten into now? I’m never gonna make it out in the real world if I cannot make it here in class”.

I soon came to realize that I had to continue, that there was no way back at this point. I didn’t care about creativity, I was more focused on learning the 3D software that I was passionate about so I pushed my horrible experience in the creativity class away from my brain. Eventually there was another creativity class and on this one I scored a 9.5/10 with a different professor.

I think what I want to say is that there will be lots of negative people when you make that career change, and negative people that want to drag you and your ideas down.  This you must ignore and continue with the goal you have in mind.

IC–You spoke in the last question about how you faced fear and a sense of “I can’t do this”, but is there a time in the beginning (or anytime really) that you really felt, “wow, I can do this?” 

I finished my studies in November 2011 and came back to Ecuador to look for something in the 3D world.  I couldn’t find anything right away.  I interviewed with a few companies but no one would call me back so I had to go into substitute teaching because I was completely broke.

Then in February this huge construction company called me in to interview and they offered me a temporary job creating 3D graphics for their engineering projects. I started and have not stopped.

They gave me an opportunity, and I did not waste it. I designed the excavation 3D model of the new Ecuadorian oil refinery. It was a competition between companies of who proposed the best solution to the government and we won meaning my 3D graphics were everywhere in the presentation. It was amazing because then I knew I could do this, I will do this and I am good at it. This was in June of 2012.

I was happy, but I had to keep going so I continued with the constructive sequence of the subway station for the new Quito Subway. This video has been the best I have ever created so far.

IC–You went from an employee to self employed. What’s been the biggest reward and challenge in this?

When I was employed at a school,  I worked on a given schedule.  It was 7 – 3 pm job but I still had to do planning outside normal work hours, but we had months off for summer and other holidays. Now I have to work whenever I need to complete a project.

For example, I was working yesterday, Sunday, until 4:30 pm in one of the offices of this construction company. Sometimes I stay until 3 a.m. rendering the final product and there are days where I an take the entire morning off. I like it, I get to choose when I work and then again, I love creating 3D worlds so I don’t really mind working on huge projects.

IC–What has changed in how you view the future in regards to your work, money and planning?

I think the most important thing where I have evolved is that I don’t have to do it all. Inside the classroom, you, the teacher, had to do everything. I had to teach, discipline students, write tests, grades, create projects, etc etc etc. And I started thinking about this in my new projects but they were so big that I soon realized I needed to hire other people to help me out. And I did. So now I have about 5 people working with me in these awesome projects, and its great. They are amazing artists and I get to bring them together working all in the same direction.

This short experience has given me a vision to where I want to take my company. I am currently building my own studio that will house many artists under my roof.

IC–Hindsight is 20/20 so looking back, is there something you would have done differently? What is one moment/decision/action that stands out that makes you really proud?

Back in November this huge construction company offered me a stable job  (I had been working as a contractor). I declined the job and I at the moment I was scared about my decision because it would have been a great job BUT I am so glad I did it. Since then I have managed to get 2 other huge clients and I get to work in my studio here in my own house, I get to take naps in the afternoon and work in my PJs! Love it!

IC–Last question, if you had somebody come to you in a career that they wanted to change, but were afraid to move into action, what would you tell them?

Of course they have to go for the change BUT plan it. Look for a program that will help you achieve this goal, talk to them, and communicate consistently. Have enough money saved up to help you get there. Choose something you are passionate about, that you are proud of, and that will become part of you eventually.  Do this and you will never look back again into your previous life.

I hope you enjoyed the interview.  If you would like a FREE copy of my book (Creating your Personal Development: A guide to doing it everyday), it is available for the next 24 hours on Amazon without charge.  Enjoy it and please leave a review.  

Putting together the puzzle of yourself

I’ve known Danny Neville for almost 10 years and have witnessed a very talented teacher, cook and human being undergo a meaningful and profound life change.  Here he is in his own words to tell you about it.

Ignite Change (IC)–Obviously you knew that you were gay long before people in your life did. What was it like knowing you were homosexual but had to keep it a secret? How did your relationship change with this dual identity over time?

Danny Neville (DN)–Like many other people, I knew I was gay in some form or other for a very long time. I also knew that this was not something I could ever let out. From the time I was a young boy, I was aware that some of the thoughts and feelings I had were “wrong” or “unacceptable.”  The TV shows I watched, games I played, and choices I made were not the norm for boys of my age. Up until around my mid-20’s I don’t think I really believed that I was keeping a secret from anyone. My feelings of attraction to men were so normal to me that I assumed it was something that all guys experienced but didn’t share openly because it was unacceptable.

As I grew up and experienced life on my own, I slowly realized that I was, in fact, different from most men in my life, and that’s when I began to hide from the truth more actively. I didn’t date (and hadn’t for a long time), I avoided all conversations about sex and relationships, and surrounded myself with people who allowed me to be myself without asking questions that had anything to do with my sexual identity.

Living with the secret of my sexuality was a constant force whirring inside of me, and one that I managed to deal with quite effectively. On the outside I was living my life to the fullest by traveling, enjoying my career, and surrounding myself with amazing friends and family. On the inside, I was constantly testing the waters…monitoring every situation in case it turned in a way that I didn’t want to go, planning exit strategies, avoiding certain topics, situations or people. Keeping the secret began to eat away at my spirit. My energy was divided, almost as if living in a continuous ‘fight or flight’ mode. The guilt of lying to the people I loved was particularly draining.

(IC)  What limited you from “coming out” during other times in your life? Did you almost once but then decide not to?

I finally came out when I was 29 years old, but I remember one specific moment that I felt the flood gates crack a year or two earlier. I had admitted to myself that I had some strong feelings for a man in my life, although he never knew about it. I had just seen him for what I thought would be the last time, when I received a letter from a close female friend where she expressed interest in pursuing a relationship with me. I was heartbroken about both situations; by not being able to follow my heart, and for lying to my friend by saying “I’m just not interested” rather than being able to tell her the truth.

This happened at work, and I immediately went to see a close friend. I could feel the tears and pain surfacing and needed to talk. As chance would have it, she was busy with a group of students at that moment, so I sat in the back of her classroom and regained my composure. I think that if my friend had been alone at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from telling her everything. Instead, I took strength from being close to her and returned to my empty room where I broke down crying in my classroom supply closet (yes, actually in a closet…), allowing myself that one moment of heartache before burying it all away once again.

(IC)  What prompted you to “come out”? Was it an event? A person? Just time?

I think it was all of the above, but the most important catalyst was a person. I fell madly in love with a guy who had become a close friend, and whom I thought also shared the same feelings that I did. In the end, we had a short but intense relationship, after which we were separated by our career choices, and moving to separate continents. Although I was 29 years old at the time, the feelings I had were similar to what I’ve heard described in many teen fiction novels. I will always be grateful to this individual for his friendship, his empathy, and his guiding hand.

(IC)  How did you change as a person now that you could be your true self?

The road to personal acceptance was rocky at times. After coming out, I still had a fair bit of work ahead of me. Telling friends and family was one piece, but developing a level of comfort with myself was something more unexpected. As I was coming out, I was in the process of starting a new job in a new country. This allowed me to truly make an attempt at starting fresh. I remember in the first days of orientation we had a new faculty dinner. I had quickly made friends with two amazing women, and one of them asked me if I had a girlfriend. This question, one that would have caused extreme anxiety a year before (and triggered my ‘fight or flight’ mode), I was able to answer honestly. It wasn’t easy for me, but it was so wonderful to be able to say, “No, actually, I’m gay.”

The surprising thing to me at the time was how the conversation flowed completely naturally after that. The Earth did not crumble; the girls did not look at me with disgust and walk away. I told them I was gay and they barely reacted to the news.

Being true to myself has allowed me to live a richer life, sharing more of myself with those I care about. I no longer cower from conversations, filter the events I attend, or make excuses for my behaviors and actions. I have been able to move on with living my life, focusing more time on the things that are important to me than using that energy to hide from…well, from myself.

(IC)  What was the hardest thing about the process? What surprised you (positive or negative or both)?

The hardest part was telling my friends and family. I did it all fairly quickly. Within about 3 months of my first gay kiss I had told all of my closest friends and my immediate family. The first person I ‘told’ I didn’t actually say any words. I couldn’t. I was at a wedding reception and asked a close friend to dance. I held her in my arms (probably much tighter than necessary) and cried on her shoulder. She told me that everything was going to be OK and that she knew why I was crying and that she loved me. One down; a million to go.

With each ‘telling’ it became a little easier. Admittedly, each time began with my own tears (for the first little while, anyway). But each time also ended with a huge, tight, loving hug and the most supportive words I could’ve imagined. I guess that’s the part that surprised me the most. This huge secret that I’d kept buried so deep for so long was being met with comments like, “So what?” or “It’s no big deal,” or “You’re still the same person.”

(IC)  What are you most proud of? Any thing that you wish you did differently?

I guess I’m most proud of the way I live my life today. I’ve maintained the friendships I had before coming out, and I’ve met a lot of new and wonderful people since. I’ve participated in Pride events, gay sports, and many discussions on what it was like to be a gay kid. I have a beautiful, kind, supportive, and completely amazing partner who I adore. He reminds me everyday that being honest with myself was the most important decision I ever could have made.

As for things that I wish I’d done differently, there aren’t many. I wish I’d been more prepared and levelheaded when I told my parents (I was a blubbering fool, barely able to get the words out). I wish there had been more support networks and gay role models to look up to when I was a kid (growing up, my image of a gay man was certainly not the man I am today).

Some people ask if I wish I’d come out sooner. My answer to that is that I came out when I was ready.

(IC) What would you offer to other people unsure about how to move forward and be their true selves?

My advice is to let your own floodgates open. Start writing down your thoughts and feelings. Say the words out loud to yourself. Talk to a loved one or counselor. At first, you’ll probably notice that you talk or write for what seems like hours. Keeping your emotions buried only lasts for a limited amount of time before things come bubbling to the surface. Letting it out relieves the pressure and allows you the chance to step back and take a look at your life from a different perspective.

Moving forward with your true self is like a puzzle. You have to open the box and dump out all the pieces before you can begin to put it all together.

About Danny Neville

Danny has been an elementary school educator for the past ten years, teaching internationally in Colombia, Egypt, Brazil, and Belgium before returning to Canada this past year. He currently resides in Toronto where he is teaching grade three and very happily living with his partner and best friend, Matthew.

True to herself: Agatha Wuh on following your passion

 Against the grain

Agatha Wuh graduated from an International School in Seoul, South Korea in 2011 but chose a path that was very different from her peers, her socioeconomic status, and family’s wishes.

South Korea is an incredibly motivated society that places a huge value on education.  But “being in a society where success is measured by one’s educational background” can often place young people’s true desires and passions not only in question, but it can stop them dead in their tracks.

So while her peers were following the traditional route of attending high end foreign universities, Agatha set her sights on following her passion: cooking.

She is currently in her second year at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and I got the chance to ask her some questions on the process of being true to herself.

Ignite Change (I.C)-  You went to culinary school. What made this stand out in a negative way to those around you (parents, family, peers, counselors)?

Agatha Wuh (A.W.)

When I told people that I would be attending culinary school, I received mixed responses. Many people who shared my love of cooking were excited for me and wished that they could make the same decision I had. Or even if they did not care for cooking, they were happy that I was doing something that I enjoyed, even if that meant taking an unconventional road.

But others were scornful if not very much against my decision. I specifically remember one faculty member at KIS telling me something along the lines of: “Why waste your smarts and hard work for cooking?”

Another memorable comment that I received around this time was from my dentist who happened to be my dad’s friend. When I told him that I would be going to culinary school, he let out a drawling interjection and said, “It must be difficult for your dad.”

I.C.-What was it like doing something that was so different to everybody else but so important to you?

A.W.

I knew that the path that I wished to choose may not be favorably looked upon by everyone, and it took me a while to make my decision concrete. What helped me finalize my decision in the end was the thought that I didn’t want to live with regrets later in life.

I didn’t want to be sitting at a cubicle at the age of 30, thinking that I should have done something else with my life. How sad is that?

On the other hand, if I begin this journey, I thought, and realize that it wasn’t meant for me, I wouldn’t be a worse person for it.

I.C.-Did you ever think of not doing it? What inside you helped you keep going and not only apply but in the end go to CIA?

A.W.

Behind all this thinking was my personal philosophy that no experience in life is ever useless. For instance, whatever dark moments that I came across so far, rather than wishing that it never happened, I think that I’m a better, stronger person for what I went through.

I had the same mindset at this crossroad. I told myself, “If I start walking this road and I end up not liking it, I know that it was not a waste of time.” After I began to think this way, I stopped being doubtful about my decision, and I was more confident with what I was about to do.

I.C.-How did you (and do you) handle those that didn’t support you (i.e. dad)?  Is there something you wish you did differently? Is there a moment or situation that you are proud of?

A.W.
Throughout the college application process, my dad never specifically stopped me from what I wanted to do. But I could clearly see that he wasn’t happy, and I was only sorry to disappoint him. Looking back, that was my biggest feeling towards my dad—being sorry.

My dad lived a tough life for a long time, and I guess his kid going off to college is not unlike reaping the harvest after all the money he spent and care he took to raise me. So when I told him that I wanted to go to culinary school, it probably came to him as a big letdown. And I think I understand how he felt a bit, and he couldn’t help feeling that way being in a society where success is measured by one’s educational background.

Despite all I felt about him, I knew that he can’t live my life for me. At my age, I had to make my own choices and own mistakes. In the end, my dad probably thought so too because after all, he is paying my tuition right now.

As part of my school requirements, I went off to LA on an externship (a paid internship) to work at a real commercial restaurant. I was posting up a lot of pictures on Facebook at this time, and my mom later told me that my dad was happy to see that I was enjoying myself.

I heard through my mom that he would used to complain about me going off to cooking school, and this stopped once he saw that I was happy. Even though it took him a while, I’m glad he got around to accept what I had chosen in life.

I.C.-Was it worth it? Regrets? How are you different?

A.W.

Right now, I am SO HAPPY THAT I’M DOING WHAT I DO! Really, I love where my life is headed right now, and I get excited when I think about what I’ll be doing in a couple of years.

At the same time, it would be a lie to say that I didn’t have any worries at all. How in the world am I going to manage 14-hour work days, six days a week? What if I realize I need a college degree later on? How am I going to make time and money to get through that? What if my salary isn’t enough to pay the rent? The uncertainty is daunting, but for now, I’m tackling one problem at a time. Let me finish school first.

Photo Credit (Agatha in the middle)